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found a new courage that kills cowards

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Alright, so Eddie isn’t expecting a universally warm welcome on joining the 118. He’s very much aware that people are likely to be wary of new faces, after all. He’s prepared for it, even. But he’s definitely not prepared for Buck’s particular brand of antagonism.

Especially when he can’t work out what it is he’s supposed to have done to have earned it.

But since the rest of the team greets him more warmly, he puts aside that confusion and gets down to work.

And if he sometimes shivers when Buck’s gaze bores into him, no one but himself needs to know.

*

A grenade in some guy’s leg isn’t exactly how Eddie wanted to his first week in the LAFD to go, if he’s wholly honest. That it turns out to be a live grenade is even less the case.

He’s only vaguely listening to what Buck’s saying - something about stress in L. A. maybe? - when he notices. “Hold on,” he says, cutting Buck off. “I thought you said this was a practice round.”

So he might have to admit that Buck had a point about working in L. A. being stressful after all, he thinks when it’s all done. His hands are steady, but his heart is thundering along at a jackrabbit beat. The adrenaline is rushing through his bloodstream and, when Buck turns to him, he can’t help the wide grin on his face.

“You’re badass under pressure, brother,” he says, and hopes that his voice doesn’t sound as breathless as he thinks it does.

“Me?” Buck asks, sounding as if he had genuinely no idea what he’s just done. His expression is open, almost childishly so, and Eddie feels something rising in his chest.

“Hell yeah,” he forces out. “You can have my back any day.”

“Yeah,” Buck says, eyes directly on Eddie. They’re so blue Eddie feels almost like he’s staring at the sky on a sunny day. He shakes that thought out of his head rapidly, nearly missing Buck’s next words. “Or, you know, you could… you could have mine.”

“Deal,” he tells him. He still can’t tear his eyes away from Buck’s own, so it’s some kind of relief when the ambulance behind them explodes. It gives Eddie a moment to recentre himself. To pack up that whole staring-into-Buck’s-eyes thing and put it away.

He already has too much going on for this.

*

Of course, the universe must be against him because, instead of the slow easing into work he had imagined, L. A. is hit by an earthquake. Eddie’s first thought is of Chris, but the mobile networks are down, and every time he tries the school’s number, he gets a dialtone.

He clings onto Buck telling him schools are the safest place to be like some kind of lifeline. And he works. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other. First, rescue Ali. Then get out. Rescue Hen. Moment by moment.

And when they finally stop, then he can think about Christopher. 

Buck says something about the phone networks being back, and he fumbles his phone out of his pocket, almost dropping it in his haste. The relief he feels when he hears Christopher’s voice makes him dizzy. He has to lean against the truck so he doesn’t fall over.

A hand on his shoulder makes him look up.

“Do you want me to drop you of somewhere?” Buck asks. “So you don’t have to bother with a taxi in this nightmare?”

“You don’t have to…” Eddie starts.

“Nah, it’s no bother.” Buck waves away his objection before he can even fully form it. “Just let me give you a hand.”

So Eddie relents and lets Buck drive him home.

It’s a quiet journey - and Eddie makes no move to break the silence after the day they’ve had - but it’s a comfortable kind of quiet. The kind that makes Eddie wonder how it can possibly be that he’s known this man only a week, yet feel as if he’s known him his whole life. Huh, he thinks, but then they’re at Chris’s school and any other thoughts are wiped from his mind because Chris is there. Chris is safe.

He doesn’t even glance behind him in his haste to get out of the car.

And then Christopher’s in his arms, his breathless laugh in Eddie’s ear. When he finally pulls himself away and looks back, Buck is gone.

*

If Eddie’s honest, this day was always coming. His car has been on its last legs for a while, puttering along by sheer force of will at times, but now it’s given up the ghost. Just when he needed it the most. He sighs, rubs his eyes, and resigns himself to calling the garage to come pick his car up.

Then he calls Buck.

“I hate to have to ask this,” he says. “But my car just broke down. You don’t think you’d be able to pick me up, do you?”

“Of course,” Buck says immediately. “Just let me know where you are.” Eddie tells him the address. “I’m on my way.”

“Thanks, man,” he says, tiredness filtering through into his tone.

“Any time,” Buck says softly.

*

Buck pulls up ten minutes later. He doesn’t look like he’s rushed over, but Eddie can’t be entirely sure he didn’t break any speed limits to get here. Still, he’s grateful, so he doesn’t question.

“Hey,” he says quietly as he clambers into Buck’s car. “Thanks for this.”

“You know I wasn’t about to leave you stranded,” Buck tells him. Eddie doesn’t know at what point he started trusting Buck with the intensity that he does, but, as it floods through him now, he realises he has done for a while.

They don’t speak as Buck drives, the only sound the soft murmur of the radio and the tyres against the road. The light from the streetlamps washes over them gently. Eddie’s eyes are drawn to Buck’s hands on the steering wheel, then the gearshift, then back to the steering wheel.

Every now and then, Buck shoots a glance over at him. Eddie can tell because he’s watching him do it from the corner of his eye.

He breaks the silence when they’re almost at his house. “That’s all I needed,” he sighs wearily.

“What happened?” Buck asks.

“No clue,” he shrugs. “Garage said they’d take it to have a look at it, and call me back in a few days.” He sighs again. “Only I really needed to run errands tomorrow while we have a day off, and that’s put paid to that.”

“Hey, I can always give you a lift, if you need,” Buck suggests. “I mean, I have errands to run tomorrow as well, so…” Eddie definitely thinks Buck made this up on the spot.

“I can’t ask that of you,” he starts.

“We’re friends, aren’t we?” Buck cuts him off. “What else would friends do?” Eddie looks at him, lets himself take Buck in, under the light of the steetlamps. At night, everything is different, he thinks, inexplicably. Buck meets his eyes and that’s different too. Full of something unexplainable.

“Okay.” He says it so quietly that he can tell Buck almost misses it. “Thank you.”

*

If Eddie were to make a list of things he really didn’t like to be asked about, his personal life, or current lack thereof, would be high up on there. Possibly second only to any sort of question regarding his service.

Anyway, the point is that he doesn’t want to be asked those questions. But he supposes it was kind of inevitable that he would be eventually. And, after turning down someone in front of them all, it was only what he should have expected.

He still has to suppress a sharp urge to tell Buck to leave it be when he asks if Chris is really the reason Eddie doesn’t date. Instead, he forces himself to shrug.

“That, and they weren’t my type.” He can tell that’s only worked to make Buck even more curious, but for some reason he doesn’t ask. Maybe he’s got a clue from the way Eddie’s shoulders have tensed next to him.

“Not mine either,” he says. “Not anymore. But I’m talking in general.”

“It’s complicated when you have a kid,” Eddie tells him. It’s not that much of a lie, really. “And besides, what’s the point in dating when somewhere out there is a person you’re destined to be with.” He can’t help the sourness that fills his voice when he says this.

“What, you’re not gonna date because of your son and your soulmate? Come on, that’s a weak excuse.”

“You live in your invisible girlfriend’s house, and you’re telling me about weak excuses.” As soon as he’s said the words, he’s flooded with guilt. Because he’s always tried to keep his bitterness on the topic of soulmates locked up tight, but somehow, all Buck needs to do is ask one question, and it just comes spilling out.

The way Buck stops walking beside him says that he’s taken aback by the comment and Eddie wants to apologise, but his phone is ringing and, when he sees it’s his tía, his mind goes blank with panic.

Then it’s all he can do to keep himself together, and the words get left behind.

*

It was always going to happen eventually, Eddie knows. He wasn’t going to be able to escape the discussion forever. Not with the team that they have. Even so, he had hoped the topic of soulmates would be avoided for another few months at least.

Apparently not.

It’s Chim who brings it up, declaring one day, “I think I’ve realised why Tatiana and I never worked out.” Eddie has no idea who Tatiana is but, if Hen’s reaction is anything to go by, she’s not someone the 118 liked.

“It’s not because she was an absolute raging bitch?” she asks.

“No. We weren’t soulmates. That’s why it didn’t work out.” Eddie feels his heart plummet at the word. Soulmates. Like that really counted for shit.

“Oh, here we go,” Hen sighs, because apparently Chim’s various attempts at excusing Tatiana are a common occurrence.

“No, no, hear me out,” Chim continues. “You and Karen, you worked out even after that thing with Eva because Karen was your soulmate and Eva wasn’t. Me and Tatiana? We were never really gonna make it because neither of us had the other’s name.” Eddie has no idea who Eva is either, but he also has no desire to get involved in this conversation so he keeps quiet.

“And she was a raging bitch,” Hen adds.

“Okay, fine,” Chim relents. “She was also a raging bitch.”

“And me and Karen worked things out because we love each other, not because we’re soulmates.”

“But you’re also soulmates.”

“Yes, we’re also soulmates. But that’s no guarantee for success in a relationship, Chimney.”

“It can’t hurt, can it?” Hen rolls her eyes.

“There is no arguing with you.”

“Because I’m right,” Chim asserts. “Hey, Eddie, back me up here.” Eddie winces internally.

“Help you out?” he asks, playing as if he’s not been following the conversation. He’s aware that anything he says right now is likely to be shot through with bitterness because, try as he might, he can’t detach the word ‘soulmate’ from the name ‘Shannon’.

“Yeah, surely you agree that being soulmates is all you need.”

“I think soulmates are a load of shit.” Wow, way to let him down gently, Diaz. By the look on Chim’s face, this isn’t what he expected. Out of the corner of his eye, Eddie spots Buck glancing down. Something about the action seems a little like a flinch, and Eddie frowns. But his attention is drawn back to Chim a second later.

“No, no, no, Eddie, how can you think that? Where’s the romance?”

Eddie shrugs. In for a penny, in for a pound. “There’s nothing particularly romantic about trying to force a relationship with someone just because you think you’re destined to be together or some bullshit. Actually, the very fact of someone apparently being my soulmate would send me running in the opposite direction.” The resulting silence suggests that maybe that was a little too honest, even for him.

“Well,” Hen says. “That was cheerful.” She turns to Buck, who’s still not looking at Eddie, the look on her face spelling out trouble. “What do you think, Buck? Anything to add?” Buck starts at the question, as if he was hardly paying attention.

“I-” he begins, then stops, like he’s searching for words. All of a sudden, Eddie finds himself desperate to know what Buck is thinking.

And then the alarm goes off.

Only Eddie is still looking at Buck and sees the relief flood his face.

*

When Buck opens his door looking shifty as all hell, Eddie starts to feel suspicious. “Thought you said we were helping your sister move,” he says, peering around the flat. “Doesn’t look like she’s packed anything.”

“Oh, this stuff is Abby’s,” Buck says. Eddie frowns. “I lied about the whole moving thing. I mean, my sister is moving, it’s just she doesn’t really have that much stuff.”

“What’s going on, Buck?” he asks warily.

“I asked you here cause there’s someone I want you to meet.”

“You didn’t set me up, did you?” Eddie still remembers the conversation they had a few days ago with a spike of guilt. Buck rolls his eyes.

“No, just- just trust me. This woman is exactly what you need.” Eddie looks at him with scepticism, but then there’s a knock at the door.

Buck clearly knows the woman he opens the door to very well, because he lets her tug him into a hug almost immediately.

“Baby, ah, goodness I missed your face,” she says, pulling back. Buck laughs.

“Oh, I missed you too. Come on in.” He turns to face Eddie. “Uh, Eddie, this is my friend Carla.”

“Nice to meet you, Eddie,” Carla says.

“Likewise.” To say Eddie is confused at this turn of events is an understatement.

“Carla is L.A.’s finest home health care aid. She has years of experience navigating giant bureaucracies, and I thought she could help you figure out how to get Christopher what he needs.”

“I’m red tape’s worst nightmare,” Carla jokes.

The look in Buck’s eyes just then, the hope they contain, makes Eddie’s breath catch. He doesn’t know what to say, how he can thank Buck for this. He hopes the look on his face makes it clear enough how grateful he is.

As he follows Carla into the lounge, he can feel Buck’s eyes on him, hot and steady.

*

It’s not that he never imagined the team would find out his full name. It’s on his paperwork after all, so Bobby must have known from the beginning. He just didn’t expect it to actually cause any sort of fuss. “So, Edmundo, huh,” Hen says. Eddie’s tempted to bring up the fact that her name is short for Henrietta (except he quite likes living so maybe not), when Buck starts coughing uncontrollably, like the water he’s just taken a gulp of has made him choke.

It’s a handy distraction from the conversation, though probably not a planned one.

“Buck, you okay?” Eddie asks, placing a hand on his back.

Between coughs, Buck manages to croak something about being fine. Eddie leaves his hand resting on Buck’s back, as if that’s going to make a difference to the outcome of things. (It feels like it belongs there, oddly, and Eddie definitely doesn’t want to interrogate that thought right now.)

Then Buck leans away from him, leaving his hand suddenly cool. “Just went down the wrong way,” he says. “You were saying, Hen?”

Any sympathy Eddie might have had for Buck in this moment evaporates as he throws him back into it. Though, if he’s honest, he kind of wants to know the reason behind Buck choking on water when he first heard the name.

“Oh, nothing important,” Hen says. Her smirk does not bode well for Eddie. “Just that I found out our Eddie here has been holding out on us. Haven’t you, Edmundo?”

Which, of course, is when the sirens go off. Eddie can’t help but feel more than a little grateful at the timing, but even more curious is the small huff of relief that Buck gives.

*

Eddie isn’t known for acting before he thinks. Everything he does, especially when it comes to Christopher, he thinks through a thousand times first. But when he asked Shannon to interview for Christopher’s new school, he has to admit he didn’t think so far in advance.

And now she wants back.

It’s been eating at Eddie for days. Does he want her back? Does it matter what he wants when he has Christopher to think about?

He thinks Bobby might have noticed something about how he’s acting. He knows Buck has, judging by the sideways glances he gives him as they work their shift. But he hasn’t been able to find the words to say it, so he’s kept quiet.

Eventually, towards the end of the shift, after they’ve got back from a call, he blurts it out. “Shannon’s back.” He scrubs his hands over his face and sighs. Then, he sits down heavily on the sofa and, after a moment, Buck sits down next to him.

“Back?” Buck prompts.

“I needed her to interview at Chris’s new school,” Eddie tells him. “And now she wants back in his life. She says she made a mistake.”

“Well, that’s good, right?” Buck says.

“I don’t know,” Eddie sighs. “I just… I want to believe her, for Chris’s sake, but I can’t.”  He leans back into the sofa and closes his eyes. For once, he would just like things with Shannon to be simple. But they never have been, now even less so than before, because back then he had the certainty that came with their soulmarks.

“I know that I would have given anything for my mom to come back when I was Christopher’s age,” he hears Buck say. He opens his eyes. Buck seems to hesitate about something, then rests a hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “I also know you’ll do what’s best for him. Whatever that may be.”

Eddie looks up, meeting his eyes and covering Buck’s hand with his own. “Thanks, man,” he says, relief flooding his voice.

“Yeah,” Buck says. “No worries.” He gives Eddie a small smile and slips his hand out of Eddie’s loose grip. He looks for a second like he might add something more, but he doesn’t. Instead, he turns and walks away.

Eddie sighs again and rubs at his forehead.

*

Eddie realises before Bobby does, that they can’t save the man, that they’re too late for him. Even as he’s doing compressions, he can feel Mitchell’s breath stop. He looks up, over to Buck, who’s sat with the man’s husband in the ambulance, and gives a small shake of his head.

“Come on,” Bobby says, tipping his head towards the truck. Eddie picks up their gear and treks round to the firetruck. He can hear Buck talking at a murmur, comforting Thomas however he can.

He figures he’ll let them be, and it seems Bobby has the same idea, coming over to stand by Eddie to sort through equipment that’s already neat and orderly.

The silence doesn’t immediately bother him. If he’s honest, he hardly notices it even. On some level, he just assumes that Buck and Thomas have settled into a comfortable quiet.

And then Buck’s calling their names.

He and Bobby share a glance. Buck sounds panicked, which is so unlike him, and that’s what spurs Eddie into action. They run round the side of the truck to find Buck doing compressions on Thomas.

“Come on, Thomas,” he’s chanting. “Come on. Stay with me. Come on. Come on, Thomas. Come on.”

Eddie can tell from one look that Thomas isn’t going to make it. He flicks a glance at Bobby and shakes his head slightly. Buck continues to give compressions.

“Buck,” Bobby says quietly. “He’s gone, kid.”

“No,” Buck protests but he stops and sits back on his heels. Eddie’s hand comes to rest on his shoulder, but Buck stands abruptly, dislodging it. Eddie wants to say something, anything, but his voice is stuck in his throat. He can see the shake of Buck’s hands and wishes desperately he could do something.

“Gonna pack up the ambulance,” Buck mumbles, pointedly not looking at either of them. He doesn’t give them a chance to respond before he’s walking away.

Eddie looks at Bobby. “Leave him be for a bit,” Bobby advises. “Best if you don’t push him.”

So that’s what Eddie does. He lets Buck sit in silence through the journey back, through Bobby’s meal and as they get changed at the end of the day.

As Buck is leaving, he thinks about reaching out, saying something. But he doesn’t know what words to use, how to put them together, and then Buck’s gone and it’s too late.

*

When Eddie lost his soulmark of Shannon’s name, the one that wrapped around the left of his ribcage, he noticed almost immediately. It hadn’t faded - one moment it was there and the next it was gone. But the soulmark on his foot? That he takes a while to see.

He doesn’t know when it first appeared. It’s not like he felt it, or anything. And he’s been so occupied with everything else - moving to L. A., starting a new job, getting Chris into school - that it could have happened anytime and he wouldn’t have known.

But when he finally sees it, the name Evan in neat print, his first urge is to hide it so he never has to think about it.

Okay, so that’s a fairly extreme reaction.

This isn’t something he has time for though. He has Shannon and Chris and the 118. That’s more than enough. And besides, there’s Buck too- He very carefully stops that thought right there.

But the point is, he has too much to think about right now to be dealing with this. A soulmate on top of it all seems like a big old fuck you from the universe.

So he pointedly doesn’t look at the name every day when he pulls his socks on, because out of sight means out of mind, right?

Right?

*

Of all the places that Eddie thinks he might get accosted by Shannon, the 118’s annual toy drive is not one of them. But then again, Shannon’s always had an uncanny ability to know when Eddie least wants to have a confrontation.

So there she is, stood in the middle of the fire station.

“What are you doing here?” Eddie asks.

“You won’t answer my texts or return my calls,” Shannon tells him angrily. Yeah , Eddie thinks unkindly. And there’s a reason for that.

“This is not the place,” Eddie tries, raising a hand to cup her elbow. Shannon jerks away from him.

“Maybe it’s the perfect place. We can actually have a conversation that doesn’t end up with us in bed.” He winces at that, eyes flicking over to Buck and Chim. They both duck his gaze and pretend like they haven’t been eavesdropping.

“Come on, then,” he says frustratedly, and leads her into the locker room. This, he knows, is unlikely to end well.

Later, after they’ve cleared up and everyone else has left for the day, he sits alone on the changing room bench. This thing with Shannon? He has no idea what he’s doing. He could, if he so wished, say why he’s doing it (the new soulmark might be a clue), but as for what he’s doing with her?

Maybe he doesn’t really want to know.

*

Eddie has always tried not to let onto his son whenever he’s particularly annoyed by Shannon. It’s become a kind of second nature to him, to hide those feelings. But he’s obviously less than successful this time because it only takes a couple of days for Chris to be asking if he’s alright.

“Yeah, mijo,” he says. “I’m fine.” Chris looks unconvinced, so Eddie tries to distract him. “Hey, do you want to go see Santa this weekend?”

“Can Buck come?” is the first thing Chris asks and Eddie’s heart thumps arhythmically in his chest.

“He might be busy,” Eddie warns. Chris looks down and mumbles something. “What was that?”

“I don’t wanna go if he can’t come,” Christopher repeats. So, Eddie guesses, that’s that. He’s asking Buck to visit Santa with him.

*

To be fair to himself, Eddie doesn’t exactly mean to put off asking Buck until the day they planned to go. He just happened to have other things on his mind. But when he finally manages to ask the question, the flash of delight that crosses Buck’s face is enough to make his heart skip.

He ignores that.

“Uh, sure,” Buck says, shrugging as if he isn’t bothered either way. Eddie knows that’s a lie. “If he wants me there.”

Eddie smiles a little in relief. “He didn’t want us to go without you.”

*

The sound of the fountain plays at the edge of Eddie’s awareness. He’s watching Chris while he’s in the queue, waving every time he looks their way, but his main focus is on Buck sat next to him. He can feel the heat of him so close. He can sense his curiosity, though he doesn’t ask any questions.

Finally he caves. “So, not gonna say anything?”

“Nah,” Buck says. “About what?” As if Buck doesn’t know what. Eddie’s felt his eyes on him near constantly since that day at the toy drive, full of questions that he doesn’t yet know the answers to.

Eddie laughs without humour. “You know what about.”

“I figured it was none of my business,” Buck hedges.

“It’s not.” If it’s not his business, why are you bringing it up? a voice inside him asks.

“That’s what I’m saying.” They fall silent.

“It just kind of happened, okay?” Eddie blurts out into the quiet. “It’s not like I planned it.”

“I never said you did,” Buck tells him, levelly. He’s studiously not looking at Eddie, but that’s okay because Eddie is studiously not looking at Buck in return.

“I only even reached out to her because I needed her help getting Christopher into his new school.”

“Totally understandable,” Buck says, but Eddie hardly hears him. It’s like he needs to get this out, needs to tell his side of the story. He doesn’t want Buck thinking the wrong thing. But what is the wrong thing? that voice pipes up again.

“We just kind of ended up in bed.”

“Ah, these things happen,” Buck says, although he sounds so false when he says it that Eddie has to suppress a flinch. “It’s not like you’re breaking any commandments. You guys are still married.”

“Yeah. I’m sneaking around behind my kid’s back with his mother.” Part of Eddie thinks that maybe the reason he let himself fall into bed with Shannon was because he was looking for something, some kind of sign, that would tell him that what they had had isn’t entirely gone. That they could have something after soulmates. (That he wouldn’t have to think any more on Evan.) Because he doesn’t know if this is what really wants, if he’s brutally honest with himself. It’s just easier.

“Christopher doesn’t know?” Buck asks.

“I don’t know what he knows,” Eddie sighs. “These kids sense things, right? The other day, I made her sneak out so he wouldn’t see her there.”

“Trying to protect your kid. I mean, she ran out on him, right?”

“I ran out first,” Eddie confesses. “I ran out on both of them. See, when Christopher was first diagnosed I was in Afghanistan. Right at the end of my tour. Instead of going back home I re-enlisted. I told myself it was to pay the bills.”

“But you were running away, too.”

“Yeah. But I got to pretend like it was for a noble cause. Serving my country. But when Shannon broke, nobody thought she was a hero. She just got called evil. And now she wants back in his life.”

“Yeah. So why don’t you let her? Seems like she’s already back in yours.”

“That’s what’s got me confused. Would I be doing it for Christopher or for me? I guess sex complicates everything. Even knowing whether I really want this.”

“You said it, brother.”

Eddie digs his thumbs into his eye and sighs. “You said, last time, that you’d give anything to have your mom back. So I have to do that for Christopher, right?” The brief silence that follows indicates that this is a topic Eddie shouldn’t have raised. But Buck answers anyway.

“It’s different,” he says quietly, gaze firmly fixed on the ground. “She left because of my dad. Or because of what she couldn’t get from my dad. And then she didn’t love me or Maddie enough to take us with her. Shannon still loves you and Christopher. She wouldn’t want back if she didn’t.” He takes a deep breath and adds, “I know I said I’d have given anything to have her back. That was as a kid. But as an adult, I can see she made her choice and that choice just didn’t include us. You say Shannon got scared, she wasn’t ready? My mom was ready, she just stopped loving us. They’re different people, different situations.”

“I’m sorry, man,” Eddie says, equally softly. He hesitates before resting a hand on Buck’s shoulder. The contact between them feels like electricity racing across Eddie’s skin and he suppresses a shiver. He doesn’t know if he imagines Buck leaning into his touch or not, and his heart jumps.

*

When Christopher comes out of Santa’s grotto, Eddie leaps up. Buck follows after him, a little slower.

“How’d it go, pal?” Eddie asks, bending down to meet Christopher’s eyes.

“It went great,” Chris says.

“So what’d you ask for?” Eddie tries, but Christopher shakes his head.

“Can’t tell. Santa said he’d work on it.”

“Oh, man,” Eddie says with a laugh. “Let’s go.” He lifts Christopher into his arms. As he carries Chris away, he hears the woman who accompanied him out saying something to Buck. He looks back to see Buck walking after them, a smile playing at his lips. He wonders if the woman asked him out or something, and feels a strange sourness curdle in his stomach.

*

Buck’s panic when Maddie’s kidnapped is an almost physical thing, present in the curve of his spine and the shake of his hands as he sits in the hospital, police officer in front of him. Eddie recognises this panic, know it for what it is. He would be in the same position if it were Christopher, if it were his sisters.

He can feel it crawling over his skin almost.

Even after Buck and Athena leave, he can feel it. It leaves him tense and restless, like his world’s been tipped upside down. It compresses his chest, makes it hard to breathe. He assumes it’s worry over Chim, so he stays at the hospital, sat on a chair by Chim’s bed with Bobby and Hen.

The feeling doesn’t ease when Chim wakes up. If anything, it worsens. He finds it impossible to sit still, instead pacing the small room almost compulsively, as if he’s been mainlining industrial strength coffee. The others are looking at him oddly, he knows, but he can’t help himself.

And then it stops.

So suddenly that Eddie feels like a puppet whose strings have just been cut. It’s followed by a deep, pervasive exhaustion, the sort that permeates down to the bone. The pressure in his chest eases and he can breathe again.

Bobby’s phone rings, and he goes outside to take the call. Eddie realises he’s been absently rubbing at his chest, and drops his hand, but not before Hen sees. She gives him a look like she’s just understood something (although he has no idea what, and would like that insight himself too, thank you Hen).

“They found her,” Bobby says coming back into the room. “She’s alright.”

It’s like every ounce of tension leaves the room at once. There’s a tangible sense of relief, followed by sheer tiredness.

They’re okay, Eddie thinks to himself, and he doesn’t know whether he wants to laugh or cry with relief. They’re okay.

*

Doheny Park is, in Eddie’s expert opinion, a shitshow. Multiple fires, a car crash, no water, no back-up. Textbook SNAFU.

Their first priority is getting the kid out of the house.

They raise the ladder and Buck goes up.

There’s no warning of it. One moment, Buck’s climbing as usual, the next the ladder’s giving way. Buck yelps and Eddie’s heart stops, then restarts at a jackrabbit beat. His hands feel cold with adrenaline.

It’s only through luck that the ladder doesn’t break completely, bending on the hinges suddenly, then slowly lowering Buck to the ground. Someone calls out his name; it might be Eddie himself.

They hurry forward. “You alright?” Bobby asks as they reach him.

“Yeah,” Buck says breathlessly. “Yeah, I’m good.” Eddie wants to make sure he really is good, wants to check every inch of him to make sure.

Instead, he forces himself to remember the kid in the house.

He forces himself not to think too much as he clambers up onto the roof, hands gripping at the shingles.

Some of the tiles under his feet dislodge and he slips, heart in his mouth. He stops for a second to steady himself and wipe his sweaty hands dry. Then he continues, scuttling across the roof and swinging into the house through a window.

The house is filled by billowing smoke and his vision is dulled instantly. “Alex?” he calls, arm in front of his mouth to keep from inhaling smoke. There’s a muffled noise from the room to his left, and he ducks inside. Alex is there, hardly conscious. “I’ve got the kid, Cap,” Eddie says over the radio. “Just need a way out.” There’s no immediate response and that worries Eddie.

With every second more of silence, his heart rate jumps up another notch. He tries to keep his breathing shallow, tries to keep himself calm. But there’s no way out. There’s nothing.

Oh, God, he’s going to die here. (Buck, he thinks inexplicably, panicked. Buck.)

There’s a crackle on the radio.

“Eddie.” It’s Bobby. “We’ve got incoming. Brace yourselves.” Eddie feels so faint with relief it takes a moment for Bobby’s words to register. Hurriedly, he lifts Alex into the bathtub and climbs in after him, using his body to shield the boy. For a moment, all he can hear is the flames and his own breathing, heavy and uneven.

Then a great rushing sound, as if Eddie were standing underneath a waterfall.

It stops as suddenly as it started, but instead of the sound of the fire, there’s now silence. Hesitantly, Eddie raises his head. The fire is out and the smoke is slowly clearing. He can hear the drip, drip, drip of water outside.

He climbs out of the bathtub and gathers Alex in his arms. The stairs are remarkably undamaged from the fire, and he runs down them into the hallway. He struggles a moment with the door, Alex still only just conscious in his arms, and then they’re out.

The sunlight stings at his eyes, and he hears rather than sees Hen and Bobby take Alex from him.

“What’s up with the Spider-Man routine?” Buck asks.

“I don’t know,” Eddie says, still breathless from it all. “I just did it. And prayed a lot.” He notes then, briefly, the wince on Buck’s face as he moves his arm, the way his hand goes to rest on his shoulder.

*

It’s almost as though that disaster makes things clear to him. Before, his mind was circling on Shannon, Buck, Evan, but now? Now it’s all Buck.

He wants Buck.

He has to break things off with Shannon for definite, and he wants Buck.

*

“Hey,” Eddie says later, as the shift is coming to an end and they’re getting changed out of their uniforms. “You’re still coming over for dinner with me and Chris tonight, right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Buck replies. “When do you want me by?”

“Why don’t you just follow me back to my place?” Eddie suggests. “Better than doing a whole detour via yours in this traffic. Besides, I’m sure Chris would be happy to spend as much time with you as he can.” Buck laughs.

“You know I can’t deny Chris anything. Okay, I’ll follow on.”

*

Christopher is so excited to see Buck he hardly waits to say goodbye to Carla before dragging Buck away to his room. Eddie laughs and Carla gives them a fond look. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” she says, pulling on her coat.

“See you, Carla.”

Once Carla’s left, Eddie gets started on making dinner. He can hear laughter coming from Chris’s room and a fond smile of his own crosses his face. He hums half a tune as he peels some garlic. The kettle boils and he puts the pasta on the stove to boil.

In a frying pan, he crushes the garlic, adds chopped tomatoes, and chilli flakes. When the pasta’s cooked and drained, he mixes it all together and sprinkles on some dried oregano.

“Chris!” he calls. “Time to wash your hands!”

He hears the soft thumps of Chris’s footsteps, followed by the heavier thuds of Buck’s, and goes to dish up the pasta. When he turns to see Buck entering the kitchen after Chris, a strange roiling sensation takes up residence in his stomach, as if he’s so hungry he’s sick with it.

“Is this enough?” he forces out of a suddenly dry mouth. Buck seems to shake himself out of some kind of funk.

“Sorry, I, uh, didn’t catch that.”

“I said, is this enough?” He holds out the plate of pasta.

“Oh, yeah,” Buck says hastily. “It’s perfect, thanks.”

As they eat, Christopher chatters away about school. Every now and then Eddie finds himself having to remind him to actually eat. Buck’s smiling as he does, and Eddie feels a sharp spike of want.

When they’ve finished, Buck insists on washing up. Eddie shrugs and lets him. He leans against the sideboard and watches him steadily. And if his gaze drops down to Buck’s hands once or twice, well that’s only for Eddie to know.

It’s clearly distracting Buck a little though, because he keeps dropping the cutlery he’s holding back into the sink. It sends a little thrill through Eddie’s veins.

“Having a bit of trouble there?” he asks teasingly. He can’t help the smile that plays at the corner of his mouth as Buck turns to face him.

“It’s all the soap,” Buck explains. His voice sounds ever so slightly breathless and another thrill rockets through Eddie. He’s distracted by it, which is his excuse for not realising what Buck’s about to do. “Here, you wanna see?” Eddie jerks back with a yelp as Buck flicks some of the soapy water at him, and Buck laughs.

“I’ll get you back for that,” he threatens, reaching towards the sink.

“No!” Buck gasps through his laughter. He tries to block Eddie off from the basin but Eddie reaches around him to flick some water at Buck.

And then stops.

They’re so close together that Eddie thinks he can almost feel Buck’s heartbeat. Buck’s laughter trails away.

Everywhere they’re touching feels like it’s burning Eddie. His hand, his hip, his left foot. Eddie simultaneously wants to pull away from the heat and lean right into it. Buck releases a shaky breath and Eddie’s hand tightens on his arm, almost reflexively.

“Dad?” Chris calls out. “Where are my legos?”

“In the box under your bed,” Eddie calls back. He’s turned away from Buck now, broken their gaze and the tension, though the heat of his body is as searing as ever.

“Found them!” Chris says.

Eddie turns back.

His eyes scan across Buck’s face and he bites his lip (watches as Buck’s eyes flick down). Then he sees how stiffly Buck’s holding his upper body.

“Is your shoulder alright?” he asks. “You keep rubbing it.” Buck pulls back and Eddie misses him instantly.

“Oh.” He seems surprised as if he hadn’t expected anyone to notice. As if he’d stopped noticing himself. “Yeah, I just yanked it today when the ladder broke.”

“Let me check it out for you?” Eddie offers.

“It’s really fine, just sore.” Buck tries to wave him away.

“For my peace of mind, then,” Eddie presses. Buck relents, letting Eddie lead him over to the sofa and knead into his shoulder. He hisses in pain, and Eddie lets up a little.

“How’s that?” he murmurs. Something about the situation makes him want to keep his voice low.

“Painful,” Buck responds dryly.

“What kind of pain?” Eddie presses into Buck’s shoulder again, but more gently this time.

“Like I’ve pulled a muscle more than anything,” Buck says. “I told you it was fine.” He’s still sat stiffly under Eddie’s hands, so Eddie starts to make small circling motions on his shoulder and back, encouraging him to relax.

“Well thank you for indulging my worry then,” he say softly. His fingers lightly dig into Buck’s shoulder and Buck tenses a little against them. “Relax,” Eddie murmurs. “I got you.”

Slowly, under his hands, the tension in Buck’s spine dissipates.

“There you go,” Eddie whispers.

Buck shivers as Eddie traces over his shoulder. He digs his thumbs in gently as he goes, feeling Buck relax further and further into his hands. He thinks, greedily, that he wants to freeze this moment in time and live in it forever.

“Doesn’t feel like you’ve done anything badly to it,” Eddie murmurs eventually, breaking the silence. “Probably gonna feel worse tomorrow though.”

“Yeah,” Buck breathes out. “Probably.”

Eddie’s thumbs catch at a big knot in Buck’s shoulder, and he gasps. Eddie mutters a ‘sorry’, and digs in more, trying to ease the tension contained there.

“How’s that?” he asks when he releases the pressure.

“Feels good,” Buck mumbles.

“Yeah?” Eddie says, digging his thumbs into Buck’s shoulder muscles. “Shannon tells me I have magic hands.” The moment Buck pulls away, Eddie realises what he just said. Way to fucking go , he thinks. You’re trying to flirt with the guy and you bring up your ex. Good one.

“Well, she’s right,” Buck says in a false voice and Eddie winces. “It feels way better already, thanks.”

“Are you sure?” he asks, a kind of desperate ploy. “It still felt a little tight to me.”

“No, really,” Buck says, giving him a smile that looks forced. “It’s fine now.”

“Okay,” Eddie says sceptically, but he lets it slide. “You want another beer?”

“Nah,” Buck says. “I should get home actually. I’m wiped all of a sudden.” He doesn’t look it, he looks as wired as Eddie himself feels, but again, he lets it go.

“Why don’t you stay over?” Eddie suggests. “It’s quicker to get into the station from here anyway.”

“I couldn’t-” Buck starts. “I-” He looks oddly lost.

“‘Course you can,” Eddie tells him. “Besides, Chris will be ecstatic in the morning if you did.” He watches as Buck relents and feels a little guilty at using his son as an excuse to keep him here.

*

Eddie bids Buck good night in the hallway. It’s dark and he can’t see much more than the outline of him, can only feel the heat of his eyes on him. He shivers. Feels that want again, the need to reach out a hand and touch him. “Good night,” Buck says quietly and turns away.

Eddie stands there for a moment longer wondering what would happen if he knocked on Buck’s door. If he offered… if he offered… he doesn’t know what. He raises a hand, then lets it drop and turns back to his bedroom.

In the dark, Buck feels impossibly close and yet almost impossibly far away. He lies down, gets up again. Paces across his room. Then back again.

What if he went. What if, what if, what if.

His skin tingles with it, that pure want. His hand lands on the doorknob and he turns it. Then he releases it and rests his forehead against the wood of the door.

The wanting is almost physical, a tangible thing that Eddie can taste on his tongue. 

He hears the click of Buck’s door opening. His heart stops in his mouth and he thinks, wildly, no. He thinks he can hear the sound of Buck’s breathing in the silence. Almost mechanically, his hand finds the doorknob again, and this time he opens the door.

Buck is there, a looming figure in the dark.

For a moment, they’re in stasis, balanced on a knife edge. Whatever move Eddie makes next will topple them one way or the other.

“Buck?” he whispers.

“I was, uh, just going to get a glass of water,” Buck whispers back. “Sorry I disturbed you.” That’s Eddie’s answer, he guesses.

“Oh, no, I was checking on Christopher,” he lies.  There’s an awkward pause.

“I’ll, uh, get that water then,” Buck says.

*

The first Eddie knows of it is the text Buck sends him. Come to changing room, quick, it says. He’s not afraid to admit it sends a spike of worry through him.

“What’s up?” he asks breathlessly. “You alright?” Buck looks confused for a moment, before shaking his head.

“Oh,” he says. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. But, uh, turns out we picked up the wrong bags this morning.” He gestures vaguely towards Eddie and then himself. “We’re wearing each other’s shirts.” Eddie glances down to check.

“Oh,” he says, surprised. “I wouldn’t have realised.” He doesn’t have a word for the feeling that floods through him in that second. Something hot and greedy, something like the ground dropping out from under his feet, leaving him floating in midair. He sees Buck shiver, sees his breath hitch.

He could step forward, bridge the gap. Test whatever this is between them. He wants to.

“Uh, yeah,” Buck says, breaking the tension between them and suddenly Eddie can breathe again. He blinks rapidly. “Chin and Hen spotted it. We should probably switch back unless you want the piss taken out of you all day.” A sudden urge to say no, let’s not hits Eddie but he swallows it down roughly.

“Yeah, sure,” he says instead. “Of course.”

*

If Eddie’s honest, the news that Shannon is pregnant comes as an unwelcome bombshell. Makes him want to up and turn tail, to run again until he can run no further. He crushes that reaction ruthlessly. Crushes the part of him that says what about Buck. What about this thing you’ve just started. The only thought he lets breathe is the one that tells him to support Shannon.

He owes her that much at least.

But some, probably masochistic, part of him insists on asking Buck’s advice. He’s certain on this decision, he is, but. Is he?

“Shannon thinks she’s pregnant,” is how he opens up the conversation. He watches as Buck almost drops a wrench on his foot.

“Pregnant?” Buck’s voice sounds high-pitched with shock and Eddie wants to say, no, no it’s not true, but he can’t. It wouldn’t be right.

“She told me yesterday while we were at the beach with Christopher,” he says. He hears the lack of enthusiasm in his voice like some kind of wound. 

“Well, that’s great, right?” Buck says. Every atom of him is tense next to Eddie, his voice so falsely excited that Eddie wants to cringe. He sighs.

“I’m not sure,” he confesses and it feels like the worst thing he’s ever done. “If you’d told me, when me and Chris got here, that Shannon would get pregnant, and Chris would have a sibling, then sure, I’d be over the moon. But now? I just don’t know.” Buck frowns.

“Any reason for that?” he asks, and Eddie’s heart jumps. He glances up, eyes catching on Buck’s. Something in those eyes (hope maybe?) makes his breath catch and the truth slip out.

“I’m not sure Shannon’s who I want to be with any more,” he says softly. Buck swallows reflexively and Eddie’s eyes flick down, tracing the movement. He sees Buck notice.

“So what are you gonna do?” Buck asks, just as soft. I don’t know, Eddie wants to say. I don’t know, I don’t know.

“I’ll have to stay with her, I guess,” he replies instead. “I can’t abandon her to raise a child on her own, and Christopher would love a sibling.” He watches as Buck pulls his eyes away. Watches him close off.

“Yeah, sure,” he says, and Eddie can hear the roughness in his voice. He feels a coolness on his skin as Buck looks away. “But even if she’s not who you want to be with?”

“I couldn’t leave her to do it alone,” Eddie says, but he sounds less than convinced even to himself.

*

Eddie would never admit to it, but he only notices because he’s somewhat fixated on Buck’s hands. But that’s embarrassing, hence why he refuses to admit to it except to himself. It’s only because he’s watching Buck’s hands that he notices he’s compulsively rubbing at his wrist.

“Hey, is your wrist okay?” he says, interrupting Chim who’s talking about soulmates again. Buck glances up.

“Yeah…” he says, confused. “Why?”

“You looked like you were massaging it, is all,” Eddie replies.

“I wasn’t,” Buck says immediately. Then he pauses. “I mean I was, but it wasn’t for any particular reason.” Eddie’s almost certain that that’s a lie because of the way Buck’s eyes flick away from his as he says it. But before he can ask otherwise, they’re at the factory and there’s no more time.

*

It’s not often that Shannon calls while Eddie’s at work, so his first thought is oh God maybe something’s happened to Chris or abuela. It’s neither. He tries not to let his relief show too obviously.

“We just had lunch with your abuela,” Shannon says. Eddie can hear the strain of her voice loud and clear. She turns the camera so Eddie’s abuela comes into view.

“Hola,” Eddie says. Before he can say much more, Shannon’s back in view.

“And now, we’re gonna get some ice cream!”

“Oh, ice cream?” Eddie says with a laugh. “Well, I do not envy you putting him to sleep tonight.” Everything about this conversation is like some fucked up acting. He can see the lies in the corner of Shannon’s mouth, can feel the corresponding ones on his own tongue.

“When I call you later to complain, just don’t say ‘I told you so’?” Shannon asks.

“All right, I promise.”

“I love you,” she says, but it’s wholly for his abuela’s benefit.

“I love you,” Eddie replies, just as much for the same reason.

After Shannon rings off, he presses the heels of his hands into his eyes. He wonders, briefly, selfishly, why he’s putting himself through this.

“Ooh!” he hears Buck say, from on top of the truck. “When’s the wedding?”

“We’re already married,” Eddie points out dumbly, unable to think of another response. Then he stops. “Wait. We don’t have to get married again, do we?” After all, they have been split up for a while. The moment he’s said it, he wants to take it back, because the look on Buck’s face right now, the false smile, tears at his heart.

“Talk to Bobby,” he says, walking away. “Maybe he can get you guys a discount.” His voice wobbles towards the end and Eddie shoots him a curious look. But then he’s gone and Eddie sighs and lets his head drop into his hands again.

“Definitely could have handled that better,” he mutters to himself. “Jesus.”

This whole thing with Shannon has his head all over the place. Shannon and the ever present voice in the back of his mind that reminds him over and over about Evan. Whoever Evan is. And then there’s Buck.

Christ, he needs a nap.

*

Sometimes, the shifts that feel like they’re going on for the longest are actually the shortest ones, Eddie thinks. And no truer is that than on this Saturday, when eight hours seems to have stretched for some indeterminably long time.

He’s in Buck’s car, headed home.

Every now and then, he glances over at Buck. He wants him, he can admit that. In truth, he’s been able to admit it for a while. And he knows, by the way Buck’s eyes rest on him when Buck thinks he isn’t looking, that Buck wants him back.

But then, as he keeps having to remind himself, there’s Shannon. And Evan.

He’s confused, to say the least.

When they pull up outside of Eddie’s house, he invites Buck inside.

“If I come in, I’ll fall asleep on you,” Buck says.

“Like I’d mind.” Eddie shrugs.

Inside, Carla’s sat at the kitchen table, a cup of tea in her hands. Christopher has gone to bed, and all his toys have been cleared away. “Hey, Carla,” Eddie greets her. “How was he?”

“Eddie, you know your boy is the most well-behaved soul on this planet,” Carla laughs softly. “He’s never been anything but an angel.”

“Dad’s prerogative to worry otherwise,” Eddie says, a smile creeping across his face. “Buck, can I make you a cup of tea?”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Buck says. He yawns widely. Eddie turns away to make the tea.

“Long shift?” Carla asks. There’s a creak as Buck pulls out one of the chairs and sits down.

“The longest,” Eddie hears him groan. “I swear if I never have a day like that again it’ll be too soon.” The kettle clicks off, and Eddie pours the boiling water into two mugs.

“You said it,” he says, carrying the mugs over to the table and sitting down. “I never thought so many people could be so stupid all on the same day.”

Buck shrugs and says, “It’s L.A.”, as if that’s all the explanation that’s needed. To be fair, it probably is.

Carla starts telling Eddie about something Christopher did today, and he listens idly, half there, half not. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Buck’s eyes slowly drifting closed, his hands relaxing around his mug.

“You falling asleep there, Buckaroo?” Carla asks, cutting off from her story, a laugh in her voice.

“Hmm,” Buck mumbles. “Maybe a little.” Eddie watches as he forces his bleary eyes open and takes a gulp of tea. Some unidentifiable feeling flutters in Eddie’s chest, and he hastily looks away, bringing his attention back to Carla with an effort.

“What did you and Chris do today?” he asks her. She looks at him in a way that says, I was just telling you that, weren’t you listening, but she leaves it be, starts the story again, and Eddie does his best to listen. But he sees Buck falling asleep again, and a fond smile plays at his lips.

“What’s that about then?” Carla asks softly. Eddie’s gaze snaps over to her.

“I, uh-” he starts. “What’s what about?” The look she gives him is so singularly unimpressed that he almost flinches.

“Don’t you give me that,” she says.

“It’s nothing,” he shrugs.

“Hmm,” is Carla’s response.

She looks about to press further, so Eddie blurts out, “He won’t want to fall asleep here. I’d better wake him up.” Carla raises her eyebrows but says nothing, only stands up and turns toward the sink to wash up her mug. Eddie leans over towards Buck.

“Hey,” he says quietly. “Buck?” Almost unbidden, his hand rises to cup Buck’s cheek. He can feel the rough texture of stubble beneath his fingertips and it makes him shiver. Buck’s eyes flutter open, unfocused and bleary. For a second, they’re fixed in place, so close Eddie burns with it. He could lean in further, he thinks.

And then Buck pulls back. Suddenly, sharply. Eddie’s hand falls away from his cheek, and he says, “Oh, you are awake.” It sounds so fake Eddie winces and Buck pulls back further. Eddie has no idea what has just happened, only that he wishes they could rewind a minute and have a redo.

“Well, I’d best call myself a taxi,” Carla says, breaking the tense silence. She’s looking between them, her expression saying, very distinctly, it’s nothing, is it.

“Hey, uh, why don’t I drop you off on my way home instead?” Buck suggests. “It’s not that much a detour.”

“Are you sure?” Carla asks. “You looked half asleep just a moment ago.”

“I’m wide awake, I swear.” Carla looks sceptically at him. Eddie is still a little too stunned to process quite what’s happening. He doesn’t know how they reached this point.

“Eddie,” Carla says, turning to him. “If I don’t come by tomorrow, it’s because I accepted a lift from this man.” But she says it with a smile and a fond lilt to her voice. “Come on then, Buckaroo. My Howard promised me he’d cook tonight, if you can believe it.”

She presses a kiss to Eddie’s cheek at the door, and wishes him good night. “I’ll be by usual time tomorrow,” she promises.

“Thanks, Carla,” he responds automatically.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, man,” Buck says to Eddie. Something strains between them still, something unspoken, but Eddie forces himself to clap Buck on the shoulder with a smile.

“Carla, don’t let him fall asleep,” he calls out jokingly.

When they’re gone, he leans back against the door and lets out a shaky breath. This isn’t something he can do, he has to remind himself. There’s Shannon. There’s Shannon and the baby. He can’t do this, no matter how much he may want to.

*

The day after his meal with Shannon (the day after their breakup), Eddie is in the station early. He hasn’t slept a whole lot, instead spending the night thinking. About Shannon, about Christopher, about Evan. About Buck. Thinking and coming to a decision.

What he’s thinking about specifically, while hitting the punching bag, is how exactly he’s going to tell Buck. What he’s going to say. What he’s pointedly not thinking about is what happens if it all goes wrong.

He can tell when Buck arrives because of the sound of his footsteps. Footsteps which falter on seeing Eddie. “Bad night?” he asks tentatively. Maybe a little hopefully, though that could just be wishful thinking on Eddie’s part.

“You could say that.” Eddie’s voice turns out a little more bitter than he intended.

“You wanna, uh, you wanna talk about it?” Buck offers. Eddie smiles at him gratefully.

“Give me a second to shower?” he asks. Something about the way he says it causes Buck to swallow convulsively, and Eddie’s eyes flick downwards, tracking the movement.

“Sure,” Buck says hoarsely. “I’ll just be upstairs.” Eddie smiles again, and turns away, letting Buck make his retreat in private.

*

Buck has a cup of coffee ready for him when he comes upstairs a few moments later. Eddie accepts it with a tired smile and takes a sip. Buck’s quiet opposite him, waiting for Eddie to initiate the conversation. And Eddie’s glad for it because he needs a second to piece together the words, bleach them of the pain they’ll undoubtedly set off inside him.

“Shannon’s not actually pregnant,” he tells Buck eventually. “She was just late, it turns out.” He sighs and rubs his face. “And,” Eddie continues. “She wants a divorce.”

“A divorce?” Buck asks, the pitch of his voice rising with surprise. “I thought you guys were working things out.”

“We were trying. For Christopher’s sake, I guess.” Eddie sighs deeply. “But even before Shannon thought she was pregnant I wasn’t sure. And apparently neither was she.”

“That’s rough.”

“She, uh, she said that it made her realise that she still wasn’t ready to be a mom again,” Eddie confesses. “That she didn’t want to reach another point where she felt she had to run.” He shrugs helplessly and his hands convulse around his coffee mug.

Buck’s fingers come to rest against the back of Eddie’s hand, and he glances up. “Hey,” Buck says softly. “You know I’ve got your back.” Eddie can’t help the small smile that creeps over his face, as tense as it may be.

“I’m just worried about how it’ll affect Christopher. He’s just got her back and now...” Eddie trails off.

“So you talk to him. Tell him what’s going on. Did Shannon say anything about visitation?”

“She said she still wanted to see him. I just- I don’t know.” He sighs. “I guess it’s funny because I knew it wasn’t working. I didn’t want to admit it but I knew. But I thought we were on the same page about doing the best with what we had.” He stops, and a silence settles between them. “We used to be soulmates.”

Buck doesn’t seem all that surprised. But still, he says, “Used to be? How does that work?” Eddie shrugs and looks down at the tabletop.

“I guess somewhere along the way we just stopped being each other’s place to land.”

It feels odd, in a way, to distill all the months of hurt and shouting and anger into one short sentence. That those years of being soulmates, then the loss of that, can be summarised so easily. It feels a little like poking at a newly missing tooth. But it also feels good, and Eddie can’t explain that. Freeing, maybe.

It leaves him breathless, and then fills him up with something, something he can’t (doesn’t want to?) put a name to.

“Chris’ll understand if you tell him,” Buck says. “He’s a bright kid.”

“Yeah, he is,” Eddie agrees, glancing up and catching Buck’s eyes. He holds them steadily, feeling his blood burn with that feeling. Buck chews at his lip nervously, and Eddie’s eyes follow the motion helplessly, flicking down and back up.

Eddie thinks, now he could. Now, without Shannon and without the baby. There’s nothing stopping him. (Not even Evan? a voice reminds him.)

“You two are in early.” Bobby’s arrival jolts them both back into the present. Buck pulls back sharply from Eddie, leaving cold where his hand had been resting before.

“Uh, yeah,” he says hurriedly. “Traffic wasn’t too bad this morning.” Eddie nods along. Bobby makes an assenting sound, and Eddie notices the slightly curious look he gives them. “Anyone want any fresh coffee?” Buck asks. “I think mine’s gone cold.”

“Put a pot on,” Bobby tells him after a second. “Hen’s just on her way.”

*

Eddie doesn’t realise what’s going on at first, too focused on the woman in the car, but he senses when Buck stops.

“Buck? What’s going on?” he asks. Buck doesn’t respond immediately and that’s when Eddie knows something is very wrong.

“Eddie,” Buck says hoarsely. He looks up to meet Eddie’s gaze. And then Eddie’s up and walking away, over to where Hen and Chim are bent over a body.

Bent over Shannon.

Eddie can’t hear much through the white noise that starts up in his head. All he can think about is Shannon. He hears, as if from very far away, Chim saying something about a spinal injury. But the buzzing in his head drowns him out and the heart is thudding rapidly in his chest.

He moves as if through sand, step by unsteady step.

He doesn’t remember getting into the ambulance behind Shannon, he doesn’t remember the hospital. He feels like he’s underwater and drowning.

He feels untethered.

*

In the aftermath of Shannon’s death, Eddie’s filled with a terrible sense of numbness. Everything he does feels like going through the motions. He can hardly even face Christopher on some days. He knows the 118 is doing what they can to help, he knows Buck is over at his almost every day just for Chris. He knows it and yet all he wants to do is bury his head under the covers and not come out. Stay there until he can feel something again.

But when the numbness recedes, it’s even worse.

It’s one night at his place, with him and Buck on the sofa with beers in hand, that he tentatively broaches the topic.

“I don’t know how to help Chris,” he admits quietly. “He knows about Shannon - I told him - but I don’t know how to help him.” He rolls the beer bottle back and forth between his hands. “Carla says he’s been waking up with nightmares when I’ve been on the night shift. But he won’t talk to her about them.”

“Have you tried asking him?” Buck asks and Eddie hesitates. “That’s your first step,” Buck continues. “Talking to him about it. For both you and him.”

“But how can I? How can I talk to him about it when it’s all my fault?” Buck pauses visibly. To be fair to him, it makes Eddie pause too. Because until now, he hadn’t been able to put into words the feelings he had been left with once the numbness passed. But now he knows. Guilt. And relief.

“Some leap of logic there,” Buck says carefully. “How do you figure that one?”

“Because a part of me wished that she was gone,” Eddie whispers, like some kind of confession. “I wanted her gone. We were trying to work things out because we used to be soulmates and we thought that would be enough, but by the end I just wanted her to leave.”

“That does not mean you’re to blame for her death.”

“Doesn’t it? She’s gone now and Chris has no mother.”

“Of all the people involved,” Buck tells him fiercely, “you’re the least at fault here, Eddie. And I know you might not believe it, but if you think that kid would blame you for Shannon’s death? That’s a load of bullshit. It was an accident. A stupid, tragic accident.” Eddie lets out a shuddering breath, shaking his head almost helplessly.

“And some fucked-up part of me feels relief for it. Relief. My kid’s mother just died and I’m feeling relieved.”

“You can’t help what you feel,” Buck says softly. He puts his beer down and places a hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “You know, when Maddie left home at eighteen, I was angry with her for a bit. For leaving me, and leaving me with dad. See, you can’t help feeling some things, even if they’re irrational, even if they’re ugly. And you feeling guilty about it? That just means you don’t really mean it.” Eddie sighs shakily and Buck wraps his arm around his shoulder, dragging him into a hug.

It’s almost like the contact breaks down a dam inside him. A lump builds in his throat and he trembles with the effort of holding back tears. Buck traces his spine with one hand and, when Eddie lets out a hitched breath, no longer able to keep himself from crying, he doesn’t say a word.

Eventually, Eddie’s shivering eases and he pulls back to look up at Buck. He can feel the dryness of his eyes and throat that comes with crying. Buck’s eyes meet his own, and he thinks, compulsively, that maybe he could lean in. Just a bit.

But he doesn’t.

Buck pulls away. “Better?” he murmurs.

“Yeah.” Eddie’s voice is rough, and he clears his throat. He’s a little embarrassed right now so he draws away and stands. Buck lets him. “I’m just gonna, y’know, clear myself up,” he says awkwardly.

“Sure,” Buck tells him.

Eddie wouldn’t say he’s fleeing right now but, yeah, he might be doing just that.

In the bathroom, he splashes cold water in his face. His eyes feel raw with tears and, when he looks in the mirror, he sees they’re red-rimmed. He lets out a shaky breath and his fingers tighten against the side of the sink.

He thinks for a moment about how he hadn’t cried over Shannon before now. He feels another sting of guilt at that.

The truth is, he was no longer in love with Shannon when she died. And not just because her name had disappeared. Even as they’d tried to make it work, Eddie can admit that he was steadily falling out of love with her.

And in love with Buck.

Fuck the soulmark, he thinks fiercely. Fuck Evan. It’s Buck he wants, now and possibly forever.

He’s going to tell him. He’s going to act on it tonight.

As he heads back towards the lounge, he hears Buck’s voice.

“Your dad, he’s just…” he’s saying. Eddie stops in the hallway to listen. “He needs you right now, but he doesn’t know it.”

“Okay,” Christopher whispers. There’s silence and Eddie almost doesn’t hear what he says next. “What if I need him too?” Eddie clenches his fist and bites his tongue to keep from interrupting them.

“He’ll be there for you,” Buck tells Chris. “And I’ll be there for both of you. Always.” Eddie shifts so that he’s stood in the doorway, out of sight of Buck and Christopher, and watches them. Chris is curled up against Buck, his eyes drifting shut and breaths evening out.

Some noise must catch Buck’s attention because he glances up and meets Eddie’s eyes.

Seeing him there, Christopher asleep on top of him, Eddie wants. He wants so much he’s breathless with it. Maybe Buck sees some of that because Eddie can see his breath hitch.

“I’ll take him back to bed,” Eddie says, voice rough with that want.

“I got him,” Buck whispers. He shifts Chris in his arms and stands.

Eddie follows him to Chris’s room, his eyes fixed on Buck’s. He watches as Buck lays Christopher down on the bed and pulls the covers over him. Eddie almost can’t breathe for how much he wants, right here, right now. His whole body is hot with it. He wants to reach out and run a hand down Buck’s spine.

Buck closes Chris’s door.

“Buck,” Eddie whispers hoarsely. His eyes meet Buck’s and hold. In them, he can see reflected the same want that’s burning in the pit of his own stomach. He takes a step forward.

Buck’s breath shudders between them. Eddie wants to take that breath and swallow it. He wants to tangle himself up with Buck so that he doesn’t know where he ends and Buck begins. He wants, he wants, he wants.

Buck places a hand on Eddie’s chest and pushes him gently back. “Not now,” he whispers. “You just- Shannon just died. I can’t-” He cuts off and takes a step back. “Not now,” he repeats.

Eddie shudders, but relents. “Okay,” he whispers. “Okay.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” Buck asks.

Eddie’s smile trembles, but he says, “Yeah, tomorrow.” And then Buck’s walking away, out the door and back to his apartment.

It stings, this rejection, but Eddie knows that it’s not because Buck doesn’t want it. He knows that with a bone-deep certainty.

Buck wants him just as much as he wants Buck.

*

Eddie has known many forms of fear in his life, but none so large as this, here, watching Buck trapped under a ladder truck with no way to help him. He feels a corresponding phantom ache in his own foot in sympathy.

They’re only 50 feet away from him at most, but it might as well be miles for all the good they can do. The boy’s calling for Bobby, thumb tucked over a trigger, daring them to move even an inch. Eddie has never felt more helpless than in this moment. He can see Buck’s eyes start to flutter closed and he wills him to keep them open just a minute longer. Just until they can get there.

The flood of relief he feels on seeing Bobby makes him stumble. It’s nothing compared to the relief of when the trigger is wrenched out of the boy’s hand. He almost can’t move for a second and then he and Chim and Hen are running towards Buck, calling his name in desperation.

“Still with us, Buck?” Chim asks breathlessly as they fall to their knees beside the truck. He gets a noise from him, but that’s all they need.

As Chim and Hen work, Eddie rests a hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Hang on, Buck,” he whispers, and prays with all his might.

*

It feels like the 118 has been waiting to hear about Buck for days, not just the few hours they actually have been. They’re not at the hospital - it’d be too crowded and their shift isn’t even over yet, Maddie said - so they’re back at the station, Chim’s phone lying on the table waiting for a text from Maddie to say Buck’s out of surgery. It’s funny, they all know exactly what a crush injury entails. They even know how it gets treated. And yet the knowing helps the wait not one bit.

Chim’s phone rings, and he almost falls off his chair in his haste to answer. “Maddie?”

Faintly from the speaker they can hear her say, “He’s out of surgery.”

Eddie thanks whatever God he can that their shift has just finished because he doesn’t think he could stay there a moment longer. None of them could.

*

Seeing Buck in that hospital bed makes Eddie’s heart lurch in an ugly sort of way. He looks small and pale, bleary eyes blinking at them all as if he’s surprised that they’re there.

The way his voice trembles when he says, “You’re all here,” a clear question in his tone, makes Eddie want to punch something. He thinks Maddie feels the same because her hands clench against the bedsheets. He lets the team’s chatter flow over him, instead drinking in the sight of Buck, alive, though pale, and propped up against a pillow.

Then he takes a breath and makes his way over.

“Hey,” he says quietly and Buck glances up. “How’re you doing?” Buck gives him such a look that he laughs out loud. “Yeah, okay. Stupid question.”

“All things considered, I’m great,” Buck says. “But that’s, uh, less than great in the grand scheme of things.”

“Yeah,” Eddie sighs. “But we’ve got your back, you know. We’re all gonna be here for you.” His heart trips as he reaches out to grip Buck’s hand. “In your corner, all the way.” Buck blinks rapidly, looking down then back up at Eddie.

“I know,” he says softly.

Eddie’s eyes flicker down their hands, to Buck’s exposed left wrist. Eddie thinks his heart might give out right then and there, with the way it’s racing. His eyes flick back up to meet Buck’s own. Buck swallows visibly and pulls his hand away from Eddie’s grasp, so he can hide his wrist in the bedsheets. Eddie wants to say something, but his heart is thumping right in his throat, choking any words.

“You’re not even listening are you, Evan?” Maddie says.

In that moment, Eddie could swear that his heart stops beating. Evan, he thinks. Evan, Evan. But they’re surrounded by people and he can’t, he won’t, do anything right now. His head’s a mess and he needs time to sort through it all.

*

Eddie’s glad Chris is at his abuela’s this evening because the first thing he does, the only thing he can do, when he gets home from the hospital is sit down on the sofa and rest his arm over his eyes. He feels like the ground’s been torn out from under him, everything he thought he knew shaken up. He’s been fighting against the whole soulmate thing because of Buck, but Buck turns out to be his soulmate. Somewhere, some cosmic deity is laughing.

Buck is his soulmate.

Buck is his soulmate.

It’s almost too good to be true. But he thinks ‘Buck’ and he thinks ‘soulmate’ and something clicks inside him, like a puzzle piece slotting into place.

And he thinks back to the hospital, the way Buck turned his wrist over so quickly when Eddie glanced down at it. He’d seen the tail end of a name, an ndo , despite that, enough to knock his heart rate up. He thinks, maybe it means nothing. He thinks, maybe it doesn’t.

He thinks about Shannon and Chris and flood of guilt hits him like a sledgehammer.

It’s been, what, only a handful of weeks since Shannon died. How can he be thinking this? How can he even be considering it? Shannon may no longer have been his soulmate, but she was still Chris’s mother. If he forgets her so easily, what does that make him?

But Buck, part of him goes. But Buck.

*

He’s quiet on his shifts the next few days. He can feel it, he knows everyone notices. They seem to assume he’s just missing Buck, but there’s more to it than that. Since that day at the hospital, he hasn’t stopped thinking. About soulmates, about Buck. About what if, what if, what if.

It’s probably when he starts cleaning the truck for the third time in a single shift that clues Bobby into something being wrong.

“You all good?” he says carefully.

“Yeah, Cap,” Eddie says, rubbing harder at the rear fender. “I’m fine.”

“You sure about that?”

“Yep.” If Eddie sounds short, it’s less that he’s annoyed by this line of questioning and more that there’s a spot of dirt on the fender he just can’t get off. Truly it is.

“Hmm,” is all Bobby says, and the silence that follows makes Eddie hope that he’s gone away.

He hasn’t.

This, he thinks, might officially be an intervention. He puts down the cloth and turns to face him.

“I promise I’m fine,” he tries, but Bobby raises an eyebrow in a way that says don’t lie to me.

“You’ve cleaned that truck about ten times since Buck woke up. That’s not ‘fine’.” Eddie sighs and rubs at his forehead.

“Can we go upstairs?” he asks. There’s a pause before Bobby nods and turns away. Eddie takes a moment to breathe in deeply, before following after him.

On the sofas upstairs, his mind is wiped blank of any words, and he sits, fingers twisted together, struggling to speak. “I-” he starts and then stops. Opens his mouth, then closes it, realising he’s no closer to finding the right words.

“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want,” Bobby says softly.

“It’s not that. It’s just I don’t know what to say,” Eddie replies, frustration colouring his tone. He sighs. “I- It’s about my soulmate,” he forces out. Bobby is quiet, waiting for him to continue. “Shannon used to be my soulmate, but she isn’t- wasn’t anymore. And then there was a new mark, and I didn’t know who it was, but that was okay, because I was trying with Shannon instead. And then I found out. I found out and-” He cuts off, gives an abortive shrug.

“And now you think it would be a disservice to Shannon to move on so soon?” The way Bobby says it brings Eddie up short.

“Yes,” he says carefully. “In a way.”

“Even though, if you’re honest with yourself, it was over long before?” Eddie hesitates.

“I didn’t… She’d broken it off,” he confesses slowly. “But I still feel guilty for moving on. Like- like I shouldn’t be.” He lets out a shuddering breath, carefully doesn’t look at Bobby as he says, “I didn’t even want to try with her anymore.”

“But you wanted her to be happy,” Bobby says. Eddie nods. “And she would have wanted the same for you.”

Eddie takes a moment to absorb that. It’s true, he knows that much. He’d had too much love for Shannon once upon a time for it to have been fully soured by the fights, and he knows she’d felt the same. But.

“I don’t want it to seem like I’ve just forgotten her,” he whispers.

“No one would ever accuse you of forgetting Shannon,” Bobby reassures him. “But you shouldn’t deny yourself the chance to be happy just because of what others may think.” He stands, and Eddie looks up at him. “Let yourself be happy, Eddie.”

*

With his heart in his mouth, he knocks on Buck’s door. His hands are shaking and he clenches them into fists in an effort to stop. He can hear Buck on his crutches making his way to the door, and when it opens, he thinks he might have just lost all the air in his lungs.

“Can I come in?” he asks.

“Um, yeah, sure,” Buck mumbles and guides himself back on his crutches so he’s not in the way. He has an odd, almost resigned, look on his face, as if he’s already preparing himself for something bad.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner,” Eddie says, closing the door behind him. “I needed time to think.”

“To think?” Buck asks, apparently a little confused to see Eddie now. Almost like he was expecting something different.

“We need to talk,” Eddie tells him. “But I think you already knew that.” For a moment, nothing, then Buck nods silently. “We should sit,” Eddie prompts.

That, in part, is because he thinks his legs might shake out from underneath him if he stands any longer.

They sit on the sofa and an awkward silence settles over them. Eddie had practiced and practiced what he was going to say at this point. The words that would make everything clear between them. But now he’s here, his mind is very helpfully, and very awfully, blank.

“I don’t really know where to start,” he confesses eventually. “I had everything straight in my head coming here, and now…” Buck bites his lip. Eddie’s eyes flick down briefly and then back up to meet Buck’s own wide ones.

And suddenly he knows what to do.

He reaches out and rests his hands on Buck’s left wrist. The skin there is hot, and Buck jumps next to him. He moves over to Buck’s watch and slides the strap free of the loops.

“Eddie-” Buck starts. Eddie’s hands still.

“Trust me? Please?” he asks. Buck nods as if he can’t help himself.

Eddie undoes the watch, and pulls it away gently, revealing a bold black name scrawled across Buck’s veins. The handwriting is so familiar his breath hitches. He realises now that he hadn’t even dared hope for this. He runs a thumb over the name - Edmundo - and Buck shivers.

“I need to show you something,” he says. Absentmindedly, his thumb traces over Buck’s wrist again before he forces himself to pull back. When he starts taking off his shoe, Buck seems confused. Then Eddie peels off his sock.

Buck’s silent for a long time, and Eddie can feel himself tensing up, preparing for the worst. But then Buck looks up, tears gathering in his eyes. Whatever he sees in Eddie’s face makes those tears start to fall, and Eddie’s a little worried now. Buck grabs his hand and squeezes.

“I thought you didn’t have a soulmate. I thought you didn’t believe in soulmates,” he says shakily, tears blurring his voice.

“I didn’t,” Eddie confesses. “And, to be honest, I didn’t even realise it was you until the other day in the hospital.” It sounds so ridiculous when he puts it like that.

“You didn’t?”

“Believe it or not, I somehow managed to spend the entire past year not knowing your actual first name,” Eddie says, with a self-deprecating smile. “It was only when Maddie called you Evan that I managed to put two and two together.” He paused. “Though maybe Bobby gave me a bit of a push.” Buck laughs and rubs at the wetness of his cheeks. Eddie drags his thumb across the inside of Buck’s wrist again.

“I’m sorry it took so long,” he says quietly. “I was so confused, it took me a while to figure things out.”

“Confused?”

“I always thought that finding your soulmate would be this big moment, like, you would know instantly. But it’s not. It’s quieter, slower. So my heart was telling me that it was you, but my head was still stuck on Shannon or the name on my foot. And then I heard your name in the hospital and I realised ‘oh, it is you’. You’ve been my soulmate since I first met you, but I fell in love with you before I even knew you were my soulmate.”

Oh, so now you can find the words, he thinks to himself. But it’s unbearably happy.

“Stop that,” Buck says. “You’re gonna make me cry even more.” Eddie laughs, a little watery himself. They fall silent. “I never thought this might happen,” Buck whispers. “I never let myself think it.” Eddie knows that feeling, but still he frowns. Buck reaches out a hand and presses it away. “But now…” Buck trails off. And Eddie knows what he means. But now, there is nothing to worry about. But now, they have each other. But now, but now.

“But now.” Eddie leans in close. “Buck,” he whispers, forehead pressed to Buck’s, hand coming up to cup his face. “Buck.”

“‘Buck, Buck, Buck’, you sound like a chicken,” Buck laughs. Their eyes meet and he presses a soft kiss into the heel of Eddie’s hand. Eddie’s thumb, unbidden, traces along his cheekbone.

“Buck,” he repeats, a smile growing on his face. Then he leans in and presses a kiss to Buck’s mouth. He feels the brush of Buck’s eyelashes on his cheek as his eyes flutter closed and he presses back.

When they pull apart, Eddie can’t help the smile playing at the corner of his lips. Buck rests his head in the hollow between Eddie’s neck and shoulder, and presses an answering smile into Eddie’s collarbone.

And this, Eddie thinks, is what Bobby meant when he said let yourself be happy.